This 20-day itinerary is a backpacker’s dream – cramming in so many unique parts of the Kiwi culture as well as plenty of ways to play.
Starting in New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, you’ll take a North Island circuit that includes adventures like Blackwater rafting in Waitomo Caves, a visit to a marae (Maori meeting house), and tons of geothermal wonders like bubbling mud pools, volcanoes and natural hot springs.
Spend your first two days exploring Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.
Hike to the top of Rangitoto, a dormant volcano that emerged just off the coast only 600 years ago. Or catch a ferry for a day trip to Waiheke Island, known for its chilled atmosphere and numerous vineyards. There are guided walks through places of cultural significance to the Maori people, like Mt Eden (Maungawhau), Bastion Point and Puke Hill in the Domain. The Domain is also home to the beautiful Auckland Museum. For a night on the town, Britomart, the Viaduct, or Wynyard Quarter all offer great bars and restaurants. For more of an indie vibe, check out K-Road's bars and live music venues.
If you leave Auckland around 8am, you can be in Raglan by mid-morning – it’s a laidback Kiwi beach town known for having one of the longest left-hand surf breaks in the world. There’s no better place to give surfing a go, so why not take a lesson with the Raglan Surf School?
There is also a big art scene in Raglan, and the area buzzes with creativity. Explore by bike or foot and get a real feel for the New Zealand beach vibe, with amazing landscapes and epic views of the ocean.
It’s about a two-hour drive from Raglan to Waitomo, plenty of time for you to get excited about the prospect of going caving. The Waitomo Caves have been millions of years in the making, and are filled with galaxies of glowworms and crazy limestone formations.
There are two main ways to play – take a one-hour glowworm tour and try out the amazing acoustics in Cathedral Cave or for the brave at heart, two words: blackwater rafting. This is a three-hour wet trip where you’ll jump, wade, abseil and float down subterranean streams in a glowworm-studded wonderland.
Rotorua is packed with things to do. At Hells Gate, you'll see boiling mud pools, erupting water and steaming vents. The natural mud bath and sulphur spa are a must-do. Try whitewater rafting down the Kaituna River in a thrilling adventure along bush-clad canyons, over 13 rapids and down the 7m Tutua falls – the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
Spend the evening visiting Tamaki Maori Village, where you’ll be welcomed with a powhiri ceremony and experience a hāngi (food baked in the earth) and live haka.
A visit to Taupō gives you the opportunity to walk through the Craters of the Moon, with geothermal clouds of steam hissing up all around you. A visit to the pounding Huka Falls is a must - 220,000 litres of water rush over these falls every second. If you’re game, hop in the Huka Falls Jet to experience the raw power up close.
Your cultural experience continues in Whakatāne, where you can visit a Māori meeting house. Visit Mataatua Wharenui marae to see the legends of Māori ancestors come to life with amazing storytelling and a digital light show.
Or trace the footsteps of one of Aotearoa’s ancestors on the Ngā Tapuwae o Toi (Footprints of Toi) trails. Connecting Whakatāne town centre and Ōhope Beach, the trails offer a diverse natural landscape and spectacular scenery of coastal cliffs, curious seals and secluded beaches. The trail includes pā sites of major historic significance, diverse native forest, spectacular pōhutukawa stands, seabird colonies and native birds in abundance - including over 300 wild kiwi.
Famous for its plentiful produce and golden-hued coastline.Read more
If adventure is on the cards, Adrenalin Forest run a multi-level aerial obstacle course to test your nerves or head out to Papamoa the home of blokarts. These karts are kind of like windsurfing sails with wheels attached, and they’re so. much. fun. Before you leave the area, visit Waimarino Adventure Park on the Wairoa River, where you can spend time diving from The Blob into the water or do some more sedate kayaking. The evening kayak to glowworm canyon is a highlight.
You can't come all the way to New Zealand without a visit to Middle‑earth™, so take a detour inland to see the famous Hobbiton Movie Set from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.
There are beautiful spots all along the Coromandel Coast – like Whangamata and Whitianga, take your time and stop often for a swim or a bite to eat. Hahei Beach is the gateway to stunning Cathedral Cove. Take a boat cruise to get out to the Cove; you might just see dolphins, penguins or orcas on the way. Another popular spot is Hot Water Beach, where you can dig yourself your own personal hot pool in the sand. Now that’s relaxing.
Climb through the ruggedly beautiful mountain ranges of the Coromandel Peninsula.Read more
Before heading back to Auckland, stop near Thames and take a hike to the Pinnacles. These dramatic rocks are located high above a forest between the Coromandel and Thames, and you can hike to them in 2-4 hours. Following a rugged track, you’ll reach a modern Department of Conservation(opens in new window) hut near the top, where you can spend the night. If you’re a person that likes to finish things properly, you can climb the actual Pinnacles rocks themselves with the help of a few ladders.
The Pinnacles can be done in a day trip if you’re fit, but why rush? The chance to watch the sunset from a place like this something you’ll never forget.
Getting around New Zealand is easy with a great range of transport options available.
There are plenty of accommodation options for every budget and travel style.
No matter the season, the majority of our main attractions are open year-round.
More information on basic costs for accommodation, travel and food.